Friday, November 6, 2009

Nibbling at Kale

A few months ago I walked to the back of our yard to pick the rainbow Swiss chard for dinner. The chard was lush, growing in a raised bed filled with composted leaves, grass, and other garden trimmings. The raised bed is only a 100 feet from the house, but it is a bit hidden, tucked beyond the meadow of goldenrods, sedges, and Joe-pye-weed that we let grow wild, and the forest edge.

I thought someone had gotten to the Swiss chard before me, all the leaves were clipped off just above the stem, all in a row. It was too high for a woodchuck. And the chard stems were not evenly clipped as a rodent or rabbit would do with their sharp upper and lower incisors. Deer have only lower incisors so they rip the plant as they munch. As I looked closer I saw a toe print - a deer.

The arugula, scallions, lettuce, and kale were untouched. Weeks went by. The Swiss chard recovered, sprouted new leaves, and we harvested enough for a few meals. A few days ago I went back to harvest some kale. Such a hardy plant, it does even better after a frost. Full of nutrition, it is a great substitute for spinach, which is hard to grow, or chard which is finished for the year.

The dogs -- Bella and Aria -- and I often walk back here, wandering into the woods that borders a wetland with beaver and ducks and other interesting things to see. As we strolled past the raised beds, the dogs stopped to sniff. They lingered. I glanced at the bed -- the kale was nibbled, actually all the big leaves were gone. I continued on a few more steps into the woods. Just then I noticed two large does bounding away, their tails flipped up showing the snow white underside. The dogs, busy sniffing around the raised bed, missed the movement.

They soon joined me in the woods and almost immediately picked up the deer scent. I kept them close to prevent a chase. They stopped sniffing the air and began sniffing the ground. We continued on to the wetland. I reached the shore, but they were not with me. I looked back and saw each of them nibbling at the ground. They were nibbling the remains of the kale -- now in the form of small, round black deer droppings or pellets or raisins.

Our dogs usually avoid animal scat, but they seem to love deer droppings. Yes, deer can carry disease and parasites, which can transmit through their poop. But these deer looked quite healthy, and besides, they had fed on kale. How nutritious is that for deer and dog!

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